Canalys issued a bleak prediction for Japan smartphone shipments in 2020, with expectations fading 5G would boost handset demand as the market copes with the Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak as well as the postponement of the Olympic Games.

The games were set to be a showcase for 5G networks launched late last month, in turn fuelling demand for the latest smartphones. But with the games put off until 2021 due to Covid-19, Canalys now expects slower uptake of the next-generation devices.

Japan’s smartphone market faces other headwinds in the form of new restrictions on handset bundling and tariffs, leading Canalys to conclude a 10.9 per cent year-on-year decline in shipments during 2019 was unlikely to be addressed this year.

In fact, it tipped shipments to decline by at least 13 per cent to 25.1 million units this year. The prediction is the research company’s best-case scenario: its worst-case outlook sees shipments plunging as much as 28 per cent.

Shengtao Jin, Canalys research analyst, said the demand shock caused by the pandemic will impact all vendors. Jin noted consumers will have little appetite for pricey 5G plans and devices, and operators will have an even longer payback period to recover their massive capex to deploy next-generation networks.

In 2019, only Samsung gained ground, with shipments up 12.3 per cent and the vendor holding an 8 per cent market share, apparently spurred by a move into the budget segment in Q4. However, Canalys warned the company would face fierce competition from Oppo and Xiaomi moving forward.

Apple held top spot in terms of market share at 53.3 per cent, but shipments 5.1 per cent lower: a stronger mid-range portfolio is key to its success, Canalys said, with this segment thriving in Japan.

Kyocera suffered the greatest decline (27.9 per cent) leaving it with a 7.5 per cent share of shipments.

Sharp held a 12.8 per cent share and Sony 7.9 per cent.